Wednesday, September 03, 2008

On the Palin pick...

During the Democratic primaries, Sarah Palin was asked about Hillary Clinton’s criticisms of the media for their sexist coverage of her presidential run. She called Hillary a whiner.

ABC: "When I hear a statement like that coming from a woman candidate with any kind of perceived whine about that excess criticism or, you know, maybe a sharper microscope put on her, I think, man, that doesn’t do us any good. Women in politics, women in general wanting to progress this country. I don’t think it’s, it bodes well for her - a statement like that."
She went on to say that Hillary she should just "work harder" and prove herself more. Now, upon her ascension to Republican Vice Presidential candidate, her tone is different. And what does the McCain campaign do? They trot out a group of high-profile and Republican-loyalist females to generate a new campaign theme that pitts a noble hockey-mom versus the sexist Eastern liberal elites in the media.

ABC: Six Republican women, including the former governor of Massachusetts and John McCain's top adviser accused Democrats and supporters of Sen. Obama of what they called demeaning, sexist smears against the Republican Vice Presidential Nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

In arguing that Palin should be judged on the merits of her executive experience (she's not currently, they said), the women, in a press conference at the Republican Convention, used the word "sexism" or "sexist" no fewer than 12 times and invoked what they called the sexism suffered by Sen. Hillary Clinton several others.

McCain top adviser and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina said she has talked to Democrats about how "disappointed they were in their own party for not standing up to the sexist smears suffered by Hillary Clinton" during the Democratic primary race...

Fiorina was pushed on the Clinton question later, after again accusing Democrats of being sexist toward the New York Senator. A reporter asked if Clinton had ever suffered sexism from Republicans. "No, I think the Republican Party took her on her stand on issues," Fiorina said. "Took her on hard on her stand on issues.”

The strategy is obvious. When a record is indefensible, you have to change the subject. In doing so, you try to change the subject in a way that is most politically advantageous. So now, instead of trying to defend an un-vetted candidate with little federal experience and no foreign policy experience, they are attempting to shamelessly create a faux call-to-arms of both disenfranchised women and average Joes.

The cries of sexism will undoubtedly continue but so will the vetting. It will be done in public and it will be done in private (or seemingly the latter but actually the former) in an attempt to thoroughly examine the Palin record, to find out who she is, what she believes, and where she wants to lead the country.

To think the American people wouldn’t want a thorough scrubbing of the Palin record is ridiculous, particularly as it’s becoming more and more obvious (with new revelation after new revelation) that the McCain campaign failed miserably in doing their job. So what are her views?
The Post: In some areas, especially and not surprisingly on foreign policy, what the Alaska governor and surprise Republican vice presidential pick believes is a mystery. "I've been so focused on state government, I haven't really focused much on the war in Iraq," Ms. Palin told Alaska Business Monthly in March 2007. "I heard on the news about the new deployments, and while I support our president, Condoleezza Rice and the administration, I want to know that we have an exit plan."

In some areas of domestic policy, where her views are better known, Ms. Palin has staked out more conservative positions than has Sen. John McCain. For instance, whereas Mr. McCain would allow exceptions to a ban on abortion in cases of rape or incest, Ms. Palin opposes any exception other than to save the life of the mother. If her daughter were raped, she said in a 2006 debate, "I would choose life."

…Ms. Palin describes herself as a "hard-core fiscal conservative." But she has not signed the anti-tax pledge pushed by Grover Norquist's American Taxpayers Union. In fact, Ms. Palin supported Wasilla's first-ever sales tax and pushed to raise it as mayor (while simultaneously reducing property taxes); as governor, she increased taxes on oil companies. In 1994, she advocated a flat tax in a campaign ad for a Republican Senate candidate.

These are all brushstrokes in a portrait of Ms. Palin that is only beginning to emerge.

What has become clear is that John McCain and Sarah Palin will either refuse to divulge relevant information or will completely distort that information before making it public. There over-arching theme is that she’s a maverick. Really? So why does she side with the far-right each step of the way? Is that the same mindset that placed a maverick label on a candidate who votes with President Bush 90 percent of the time?

In an attempt to conform to McCain and his anti-earmark rhetoric, she claimed to have told Congress "'thanks but no thanks' on that bridge to nowhere." It drew big applause but it was simply not true.

Seattle Times: In the city Ketchikan, the planned site of the so-called "Bridge to Nowhere," political leaders of both parties said the claim was false and a betrayal of their community, because she had supported the bridge and the earmark for it secured by Alaska's Congressional delegation during her run for governor.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

As she introduced herself to the nation Friday as the Republican vice-presidential candidate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin touted her record as a reformer who worked to end the "abuses of earmark spending in Congress." But earmarks have never been a dirty word in Alaska, a huge state dotted with small communities that have enormous dollar needs for sewers, roads and other projects. Instead, earmarks — pet projects that members of Congress fund but that no federal agency has requested — have become a mainstay of political life here, and one that Palin embraced from early on in her career as a mayor of Wasilla to the governor's mansion in Juneau.

Just this year, she sent to Sen. Ted. Stevens, R-Alaska, a proposal for 31 earmarks totaling $197 million — more, per person, than any other state. Her presidential running mate, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., does not sponsor earmarks, calling the practice of doling out favors, often with scant oversight, "disgraceful."

Palin's requests to Congress came at a time of huge federal deficits, while Alaska state revenue was soaring due to rising oil prices and a major tax increase on oil production that Palin signed into law in late 2007. As a result, Alaska this year was in such a money-flushed condition — with no state income tax or sales tax and total state revenues of $10 billion, double the previous year's - that Palin gained legislative approval for $1,200 cash payments to every Alaskan.

In addition, each Alaska resident gets an annual dividend check, about $2,000 this year, from Alaska's oil-wealth savings account, known as the Permanent Fund, now fattened to more than $35 billion. The state also has been able to tap into a gusher of federal money as its Republican congressional delegation rose in seniority and clout.

Instead of making Palin accessible so that America can get a better look, they’ve holed her up in a hotel suite for three days with policy advisers and briefing books.

Eilperin and Barnes: Palin, a relative unknown on the national political scene who was chosen as McCain's running mate last Friday, had been holed up in her suite in the Hilton Minneapolis since Sunday night. A parade of McCain's top advisers have briefed her on the nuances of his policy positions, national politics and, above all, how to introduce herself to the national audience she will address Wednesday night at the Republican convention.

Sitting around a dining room table, the McCain team has talked to her about Iraq, energy and the economy but has focused on what she should say in her speech, struggling almost as hard as she has to prepare for what will be, along with a debate in October, her main opportunity to shape the way she is viewed by voters. Not anticipating that McCain would choose a woman as his running mate, the speech that was prepared in advance was "very masculine," according to campaign manager Rick Davis, and "we had to start from scratch."

…In an effort to prevent any damaging mistakes, the McCain campaign is orchestrating Palin's public introduction carefully. Except for an interview with People magazine the afternoon her selection was announced, she has not taken a single question from a reporter, and it remains unclear when she will speak to the national news media.

So when will she emerge from her secret undisclosed location? Even loyalists like Lindsay Graham know they can’t and shouldn't do it forever.

Post: In the remaining 62 days of the campaign, it's crucial that Ms. Palin make herself available to answer reporters' questions, through news conferences, day-to-day interactions and sustained interviews.

"We're asking the American people to pick the next president and vice president, and we do not expect the American people to do so -- 'Trust me' -- blindly," Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) told us yesterday. "She will have to do what's expected of people in this business. . . . In countries where that does not happen, I do not want to live."

It's hard to recall a time when either major party asked voters to accept a nominee with a thinner record. We look forward to the McCain campaign living by Mr. Graham's admonition.

After all, it was Lindsay Graham who led us all to believe that Barack Obama was not strong enough or qualified enough to protect us from the terrorists who were coming to our homes. But Palin? She’s apparently going to do just fine protecting America because she’ll have good advisers.

Eilperin and Barnes: Palin has rarely traveled overseas: Last summer, as governor, she journeyed to Canada on one trip and to Germany, Iraq and Kuwait on another, and Comella said she might have traveled to Mexico once on a personal trip. "Obviously the governor of Alaska spends very little time on foreign policy," Davis said, though he added that if something were to happen to McCain, "I think she's got the judgment to do the things as commander in chief that John McCain would think are the right things to do."

Graham, who lobbied hard for McCain to choose their mutual friend Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) as his running mate, said Palin would be able to handle foreign relations in McCain's absence as long as she relied on his staff. "She can do fine in foreign policy because of the infrastructure we have around us. She's smart, and she will learn over time," he said, adding that when it comes to selecting a vice president, "there is no perfect person. If we could have found someone who's an expert in everything, we would have picked 'em, right?"

But she’s great on energy issues, right? After all, the McCain campaign has touted her expertise on the issue. His campaign has also touted the combined ticket's alleged progressive views on energy and the environment in an attempt to win over moderates. But is that really the case?

Friedman: Going into this election, I thought that - for the first time - we would have a choice between two “green” candidates. That view is no longer operative... With his choice of Sarah Palin - the Alaska governor who has advocated drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and does not believe mankind is playing any role in climate change - for vice president, John McCain has completed his makeover from the greenest Republican to run for president to just another representative of big oil.

Given the fact that Senator McCain deliberately avoided voting on all eight attempts to pass a bill extending the vital tax credits and production subsidies to expand our wind and solar industries, and given his support for lowering the gasoline tax in a reckless giveaway that would only promote more gasoline consumption and intensify our addiction to oil, and given his desire to make more oil-drilling, not innovation around renewable energy, the centerpiece of his energy policy — in an effort to mislead voters that support for drilling today would translate into lower prices at the pump today — McCain has forfeited any claim to be a green candidate.

Expertise? Not really. Just more of the same.

“One of McCain’s last independent policies putting him at odds with Bush was his opposition to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” added Carl Pope [executive director of the Sierra Club] “yet he has now picked a running mate who has opposed holding big oil accountable and been dismissive of alternative energy while focusing her work on more oil drilling in a wildlife refuge and off of our coasts. While the northern edge of her state literally falls into the rising Arctic Ocean, Sarah Palin says, ‘The jury is still out on global warming.’ She’s the one hanging the jury — and John McCain is going to let her.”

Indeed, Palin’s much ballyhooed confrontations with the oil industry have all been about who should get more of the windfall profits, not how to end our addiction.

Palin’s nomination for vice president and her desire to allow drilling in the Alaskan wilderness “reminded me of a lunch I had three and half years ago with one of the Russian trade attachés,” global trade consultant Edward Goldberg said to me. “After much wine, this gentleman told me that his country was very pleased that the Bush administration wanted to drill in the Alaskan wilderness. In his opinion, the amount of product one could actually derive from there was negligible in terms of needs. However, it signified that the Bush administration was not planning to do anything to create alternative energy, which of course would threaten the economic growth of Russia.”

To gain a better perspective of Palin and her record, we look to Mike Doogan, a friend of hers and a Democratic member of the Alaska House of Representatives:

Most Alaskans like Sarah Palin. I know I do. Both as a politician and a person, there's a lot to like… But that doesn't mean I think John McCain made a good decision when he picked Palin to be his running mate. I don't. Sarah Palin is simply not qualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, especially when that heart beats in the chest of a man who would be the oldest president ever elected to a first term.

If you held Palin's political résumé up to the light, you could see right through it. Mayor of a small town, followed by less than two years as governor of a state with the fourth-smallest population in the country. That's the person who is qualified to take over if the Norns snip McCain's thread? The woman prepared to be commander in chief?

I know, I know. Somewhere a thousand spin doctors are trying to inflate Palin's accomplishments, to make McCain's decision look less like the Hail Mary it so clearly is. (We've already heard them at work.) But before they make her sound like the second coming of Otto von Bismarck, only in high heels, here's an assessment that's a little closer to the truth:

Palin's time as governor has been a mixed bag. She deserves high marks for moving the possibility of a gas pipeline forward. But most of the work on oil taxes was done by the legislature. Ditto with ethics reform. And her role in killing the ballyhooed "Bridge to Nowhere"? Turns out that she was for it before she was against it, and that, well, she kept the money anyway.

Add to this a growing sense that the state government isn't running all that well: commissioners and key staffers jumping or being pushed. The operating budget growing 10 percent a year. Policy problems such as high energy costs being papered over with cash giveaways. The governor and her aides being investigated by the legislature. You can see why it's not clear she's a competent governor of Alaska, let alone qualified to take over the reins of the national government.

Don't get me wrong. Palin brings some pluses to the campaign. She's a woman. She's young. She's from outside the Beltway. The Christian right likes her. She's comfortable on TV -- she has a degree in journalism -- and is adept at connecting with people on a personal level. And she is very, very competitive. When I criticized her plan to hand out free money to Alaskans -- spin that, conservative pundits -- the next time we met she lit into me like I was a pork chop and she was a starving wolf.

Unlike the shrill pundits on cable news, I don't have a crystal ball. I don't know if Palin will turn out to be an asset to the McCain campaign or a liability or, like so many vice presidential candidates before her, a non-factor. I don't know what kind of leader she might be. But I do know that, on all these fronts, she is a big, big risk if her ticket wins and something bad happens to John McCain. And that the risk isn't just McCain's. Or the Republican Party's. It's all of ours now.

And that tells me all I need to know about John McCain's judgment.

Indeed, the pick of Sarah Palin does tell us a lot about the judgment of John McCain’s.

Times: If John McCain wants voters to conclude, as he argues, that he has more independence and experience and better judgment than Barack Obama, he made a bad start by choosing Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.

Mr. McCain’s supporters are valiantly trying to argue that the selection was a bold stroke that shows their candidate is a risk-taking maverick who — we can believe — will change Washington. To us, it says the opposite. Mr. McCain’s snap choice of Ms. Palin reflects his impulsive streak: a wild play that he made after conservative activists warned him that he would face an all-out revolt in the party if he chose who he really wanted — Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.

Why Mr. McCain would want to pander to right-wing activists — who helped George W. Bush kill off his candidacy in the 2000 primaries in a particularly ugly way — is baffling. Frankly, they have no place to go. Mr. McCain would have a lot more success demonstrating his independence, and his courage, if he stood up to them the way
he did in 2000.

As far as we can tell, Mr. McCain and his aides did almost no due diligence before choosing Ms. Palin, raising serious questions about his management skills. The fact that Ms. Palin’s 17-year-old daughter is pregnant is irrelevant to her candidacy. There are, however, very serious questions about her political past and her ideology. If Mr. McCain wanted to break with his party’s past and choose the Republicans’ first female vice presidential candidate, there are a number of politicians out there with far greater experience and stature than Ms. Palin, who has been in Alaska’s Statehouse for less than two years.

Before she was elected governor, she was mayor of a tiny Anchorage suburb, where her greatest accomplishment was raising the sales tax to build a hockey rink. According to Time magazine, she also sought to have books banned from the local library and threatened to fire the librarian.

For Mr. McCain to go on claiming that Mr. Obama has too little experience to be president after almost four years in the United States Senate is laughable now that he has announced that someone with no national or foreign policy experience is qualified to replace him, if necessary.

Mr. McCain will make his acceptance speech on Thursday, and Ms. Palin will speak on Wednesday. Those two appearances will go a long way to forming voters’ views of this Republican ticket. As Senator Graham noted, Mr. McCain has to reach out beyond the party’s loyal base. “We’re going to have to win this thing,” he said. “This is not our race to lose.”

Mr. McCain’s hurdles are substantial. To start, he has to overcome Mr. Bush’s record of failures. (The president addressed the convention Tuesday night and now, McCain strategists fervently hope, will retire quietly to the Rose Garden.) That record includes the disastrous war in Iraq, a ballooning deficit, the mortgage crisis — and the list goes on.

To address those many problems, this country needs a leader with sound judgment and strong leadership skills. Choosing Ms. Palin raises serious questions about Mr. McCain’s qualifications.

America first? Hardly. If that was the case, John McCain wouldn't have to say it repeatedly to reassure everyone (including himself). Also, if that was the case, he wouldn’t have picked a vice presidential candidate whose record he can’t or won’t legitimately defend. If she’s as talented, qualified and squeaky-clean as he claims she is, she should have nothing to hide.

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